Sunday, May 30, 2004

No time like the present

I've heard the law school horror stories, and I'm not buying it. It's true that we don't live in fear of our professors (yeah THAT sounds like a healthy learning environment) here in wannabe b-school, but we got stuck with something worse: group projects. The days of slacking off on individual assignments because your weekend priorities put getting drunk above getting good grades are over when other people start counting on you to actually get shit done. As it currently stands, I have a 13 or so page deliverable on what's wrong with MySony.com and why and how to fix it (and why... again. I'm fed up with this accountability shit.) due by 11 am tomorrow (holiday my ass) and it's one of those things that's never really finished, though I know that, at present, it's a helluva lot less finished than anyone I work with will be willing to accept. I also have a ten-plus page paper to write on search engine advertising, a topic which I found to be really interesting until I was forced to draw some sort of conclusion about it. And the moral of the story is I'm up venting about this after midnight on the Sunday of a three-day weekend before I bite the bullet and do 3 more hours of work.

The lesson in all this: I need to learn better management skills so I can delegate all this and still look busy. I now have an appreciation for all the work my CEO from last quarter's Navy project did to make sure we did everything that needed doing and that it made sense at the end, not to mention being completed ahead of schedule. And the editing of all our work...that's a responsibility that should be the CEO's, because they're the only ones who know everything everyone's doing and whether or not it all makes sense. That I'm stuck doing this has absolutely nothing to do with that observation...

Given our frantic finish (this is just the tip of the iceberg), please wish us luck in looking knowledgeable and coherent when we try to explain a quarter's worth of work to a client in 30 minutes.


Random cool link:
A whole new way to get your news: seriously, this is one of the cooler things I've seen online.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Sir Martin Sorrell

Chances are, you have no idea who this guy is, or why he gets a ‘sir’ in front of his name. I don’t know the answer the second part, but as one of the founders of WPP, he’s one of the who’s who of the advertising/marketing business. WPP is one of the big marcom conglomerates, up there with Omnicom and IPG, and owns companies like J. Walter Thompson, Hill & Knowlton, Burson Marsteller, Young & Rubicam, and everything Ogilvy--a healthy slice of the advertising business (H&K is one of a handful of PR firms that I know).

So why I am I writing about him? Because it’s my own personal Speaker Week (yes, attending two speaking engagements can make it Speaker Week when overall speaker attendance is taken into consideration). And I doubt anyone wants to hear about the project du jour that owns the other 90% of my life (sleep included, but drinking, thankfully, is not).

But really, he was a good speaker, despite quiet British thing he had going on that made him hard to hear at times. As someone who’s in the business of marketing from every angle, he’s aware of the major trends taking place affecting it, and had a few interesting things to say about that.

WPP owns companies internationally, with a plurality of their assets (40%) in the U.S. This divide, in addition to Sorrell’s being born in the U.K., means he had some very specific ideas about globalization, which he observed was really more widespread Americanization. American businesses that require growth can’t afford to increase share in the U.S. market so they go outside it, and companies that originate outside the U.S. that was to truly be international must scratch out a sizeable share of the U.S. market in order to do so. That’s all well and good; as Americans, we really don’t care that much, but if you want an eye to where the market is going, Sorrell hypothesized that U.S. dominance is going to falter, and that right soon. The decline in population in the West means India and China are coming up on our tails fast. Arguments against them representing attractive markets--that despite harboring nearly a third of the world’s population, the number that can actually buy the products most corporations have to offer is much smaller--are silly because dominating even a small percentage of such huge numbers is still a lot of money, and that small percentage is going to grow. Power and wealth will shift back to the East, encapsulating not just China and India, but other Asian countries and the Middle East. The Muslim population represents 25% of the world population and it’s growing, and it’s a culture that Westerners have great difficulty in understanding.

Another interesting point he brought up was with respect to marketing. The role of marketing is to differentiate products according to intangible attributes since it is no longer possible to really differentiate on tangible ones. No one wins price wars, either. But the shift from traditional marketing vehicles--nothing new--is far more dramatic than one might think. The face of marketing is changing because a. organizations want to move into more measurable media, like direct marketing and the internet, so they can make more decisions based on quantifiable characteristics; and b. even these marketing channels are getting less attention than they might because they’re externally focused, and companies are realizing more and more that you need to communicate successfully internally before you can do so externally. Your own employees have to be on your side, because they’re the ones your customer comes into contact with, and not just your customer, but other potential customers, potential employees, competitors, and the press, all of whom stand to make a difference to how successful your business is based on their interaction with your employees. Close of 50% of WPP’s work is on internal rather than external communications.

That’s most of the interesting stuff; none of it is really new, but the magnitude and proximity is what makes it worth mentioning. He also talked about the dominance of retailers over the market (Wal-Mart) and how the internet is changing market research and, by extension, marketing responsiveness, but we knew that already.

All in all, an hour well spent (I kind of checked out for the last half hour… nothing could make me get over my current state of sleep deprivation, least of all a British accent). Ted Sorensen was better, but I think that’s to be expected. Upon further reflection, I was really lucky to have gotten to see him, as how much better can you get as a speaker when you spent a career as a speechwriter?

Monday, May 10, 2004

Whaddaya think?

So I logged onto Blogger.com today to find that they'd overhauled the site to make it more user-friendly or something. I don't know about that, but I was sold on the Trebuchet font and decided to adopt it. Also made some changes by adding a few interesting advertising websites further down the sidebar that I hope to update on a regular basis; they're worth a short visit, I promise.

Ted Sorensen

This past Friday, I was lucky enough to remember that Ted Sorensen, Kennedy's speechwriter, was giving a talk on campus (and I am eminently disappointed in the Daily Northwestern for not covering this and thus failing to give me some sort of crutch as I try to remember back to Friday to write about it). I honestly wasn't sure what to expect since I don't remember a whole lot about the Kennedy administration, but I do know the whole 'ask not what your country can do for you' bit (which I learned was called a chiasmus--yay for learning Greek!--which Sorensen himself didn't know and thought it was kind of funny that he was still learning new things about his own speeches), and figured that, if nothing else, I could inspire envy in a certain aspiring speechwriter I know (for the record, Sorensen was speaking and Lee Huebner, Nixon's former speechwriter, was moderating). But one thing I should have remembered going into this was that good writers are usually interesting people, and they are always intelligent, so it wasn't going to be a waste of time.

One of the first issues brought up was that of speechwriters claiming the speeches or parts of speeches they'd written, and it was something against which Sorensen was pretty adamant. He noted that few speechwriters ever rushed to claim their part in speeches that were miserable failures, and he himself was unwilling to admit who, between he and Kennedy, wrote the 'ask not what your country can do for you' line (his response, when asked, was "ask not"). What was interesting to note later, however, was that he had no problem with identifying certain lines he wrote for Johnson, most notably for the speech he gave when he had to step up and finish Kennedy's term. And the line Sorensen said he wrote for that, which Johnson subsequently cut (understandably) was something like, "I never wanted to be in his shoes, and am now reluctant to fill his shoes." 'Reluctant' may have been 'unable' or 'unwilling,' I can't remember. Anyway, another chiasmus, though that doesn't really point to who wrote that first one as, given its success, it's no surprise that that figure of speech would be used again. He also noted that was part of a much larger contribution of his that was cut from the speech, to the point where the proportion of his contribution to that of Johnson's speechwriter was 25-75 when it began as 50-50.

Another interesting thing I'd like to mention, because he said he'd never told anyone this before (in public, at least), was how he got his start as Kennedy's speechwriter. He started out working for him when he was first elected senator of Massachusetts in some sort of administrative or legal capacity, I think, and after he'd been working there some months Kennedy recruited him to write three speeches that he had to give at various engagements on St. Patrick's Day. Kennedy liked his work, and so Sorensen continued to write for him for the next ten years. Their relationship was a close one, which he noted is not the norm now. It aided him in responding appropriately to various goings-on (little things like the Cuban Missile Crisis) to be constantly involved; his office was down the hall from the Oval Office and his relationship with Kennedy was such that he was often present or at least nearby when important decisions were made.

One thing this talk made me appreciate was the value of asking good questions (an entire speechwriting class, taught by Huebner, was in attendance); I learned the above when a girl asked Sorensen how he coped with including confidential material and where that line was drawn; another part of that example was his choice of the word 'quarantine' over 'blockade' with respect to Cuba because the latter was an act of war and would be perceived as such. It was really amazing to hear about, because it's public relations on the grandest scale possible. He said, "When you write, you're not just writing for the people that will be in the room, but for members of your party, members of the other party, allies, enemies..." He mentioned that part of the speech given where the U.S. announced it's plans for dealing with the Cuban Missile Crisis was also broadcast in Cuba, translated.

A final note on Ted Sorensen: one question was with respect to how he would be remembered. He said he was resigned to the fact that he was going to be remembered as Kennedy's speechwriter, but that he hoped that would come after something like: "Ted Sorensen, age 103, died today, killed by jealous husband."

Update:
I found this interview with Sorensen from this past November, which is short but kind of captures what he was like to listen to. I was fortunate that the talk I attended was far more conversational.

Here's another link to a much more in-depth interview with Sorensen regarding a number of key events in the Kennedy administration, which sounds more like him.

One last link that I just thought was interesting that discusses Sorensen's near-appointment to be head of the CIA, included partly because it mentions what happened with Robert Bork (the fact that I know who he is is astounding all by itself) and partly because it's a peek into the world of three years ago, when John Ashcroft's appointment had not yet been secured.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

The Guest

It's taken me awhile to come to grips with the fact that I watch the O.C. on a regular basis and enjoy doing so, but that's done nothing to banish the twinge of guilt that I feel (and ignore) as it comes on each week. So I'm glad that the season's over, because I won't have to deal with this for awhile. But as the trailer promoting next season ran, I finally realized how much I like the show's theme music, and since I have no morals when it comes to stealing music, I figured I might as well look it up and see if I could steal it. Turns out the band is Phantom Planet, who I've been a fan of since 1999 (I mean, last century!). And I didn't know! It was a song off their second cd, The Guest, and I felt like I'd betrayed them or something because I hadn't kept up with what they'd done since Phantom Planet is Missing.

So I tried to make up for it by finally buying music legally off iTunes (I really did, cuz I couldn't find anything but California--the OC theme song--on Kazaa), where I bought most of the album (ok, I did find a couple of other mp3s elsewhere) The Guest. And that's the title of this post because I really love it. I'm one of those people who goes through phases in their music, where I'll just listen to one cd over and over for at least a couple of weeks, and then that becomes the soundtrack for that particular phase in my life. I did this with the Magnolia soundtrack over the summer, and now whenever I hear one of those songs, it makes me remember exactly what it felt like then... and then I get kind of homesick. But whatever. The thing is, I'd exhausted my current music selection and needed a new cd to obsess over, and this is that cd. The song California also makes me homesick, not surprisingly, but I love it anyway, and then there are a bunch of others that remind me why I used to listen to Phantom Planet's first album. They remind me of a less refined Matchbox 20, for some reason... like both started out sounding the same but diverged awhile back and Matchbox 20 has been at it longer and sounds less raw.

Anyway I could babble on meaninglessly for awhile longer and since it's doubtful anyone read this far to begin with, I might as well just call it a night and get some sleep.

Oh yeah, just remembered that half the point of this post (and it's a silly one, to be sure) was to vindicate The O.C. somewhat for at least reintroducing me to a good band. I still hate the spirit in which the show was conceived, but someone somewhere made it turn out well anyway. Props.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Iraqi prisoner abuses

I know I'm not given to commenting on this sort of thing, usually because I read nothing about it to begin with. But procrastination encourages you to open doors you wouldn't ordinarily, and so I stumbled across the WSJ's compilation of global reactions to the abuse of prisoners in Iraq. I didn't expect to read beyond the first couple of excerpts, as I figured they would simply be stories that revile the Americans' behavior to a greater degree than our own papers, and I think those are pretty bad. This LA Times article is case in point. Now one can argue that this story has an entirely different objective than those that are cited here, and as such qualitatively reflects that by making use of emotion and narrative almost exclusively, rather than commentary. I never read this stuff, so I don't know. (Brendan, you're the one with the degree in journalism, help me out here.) However, there is no question that the LA Times... disagrees, shall we say... with these recent revelations, even in this story which is supposed to be unbiased. Having grown up with that, it's no surprise I'd think that if we're hard on ourselves, the rest of the world must be harder, but going by these examples (again, a convenience sample hardly representative of journalistic trends at large), it's not so. One would think this would be a polarizing issue given how other countries feel about our involvement in Iraq, and no doubt there are plenty of stories with an "I told you so" feel to them. But these are far more understanding of the actions perpetrated at Abu Ghraib. The Australian doesn't make excuses, but points out that in the larger scheme of things, the situation could be worse: "There is, in other words, no analogy whatsoever with the methods of Saddam: our system contained the means for these abuses to be discovered, acted upon and exposed to public scrutiny."

Arab News, from Saudi Arabia, which I would expect to represent this the way the LA Times has, instead writes "There is an argument that this demonstrates that even at the moment when the US faces its greatest military humiliation since Vietnam, the basic values on which the US itself is based, of law and decent behavior, are still in place." Granted, they qualify the positive statement, but all of it is like that and is, I think, a good example of unbiased reporting.

Le Monde is standing by us: "You can't just throw stones at the coalition. Its Iraqi opponents are also carrying out their blind attacks. And the torture is, alas, a contemptable but usual by-product of conflicts and repression. No country is exempt, including France, for those who forgot the dark hours of the Algerian war."

The Asia Times Online, Hong Kong (headlined 'Who Let the Dogs Out?' hehe.): "If you are shocked and appalled by what they did, it is those who let the dogs out who should be investigated. They have only one question to answer, and it is not "Did you order the maltreatment of Iraqi prisoners?" The question is, "Is this a just, necessary war?" If it is a just war, you may swallow your horror, because this is how wars are waged."

And the one that echoed my own sentiment best, from The Observer, London: "You take soldiers, trained to kill, send them to a foreign land where they understand nothing and where they see their comrades killed or wounded, and then expect them to show restraint and constant decency. Is that realistic?"
That doesn't excuse some of the horrors I've heard about, of course, but it is one of the first questions I asked myself when I thought about it. The rest of the excerpt goes on to say that the answer to that question is yes, and that if measures weren't in place to insure that before, they sure as hell will be now.

Clearly this is not a representative sample: I only took the parts I liked. And the reason I liked all of these was that they offered perspective on the situation, which I feel so much of American journalism lacks. Sensationalism loses a good deal of steam when people are not convinced that the issue has immediate bearing on their lives, and so you see news organizations continue to compromise their quality in a futile attempt to stem the falling numbers of subscribers and evening news devotees. What I'm getting at is that these papers are willing to take a step back and ask their readers to evaluate the issue for themselves, where I find many of the stories I read in the LA Times (hmm, maybe I should switch papers) are unwilling to take that step back because the second they do, they'll lose the reader and they won't return. Hence the reliance on emotion and narrative, which can only lead the reader to one conclusion: whatever side the story's being told from is right. In this case, the prisoners. I'm not excusing the actions taken by some of the prison guards, but it stands to reason that if you send thousands of troops to Iraq and sustain over 1000 casualties and who knows how many more injuries and near misses, many of those soldiers are going to be living in fear, and come to hate the men they hold responsible for that, and prisoners of war falls nicely into that category. I think it's an inevitability that, out of such a large population, a few are going to take advantage of the power they have over the prisoners to take out some of their own fear and anger.

I'm sure many others felt the same way, such as the commanding officers who may have turned a blind eye and allowed it to continue. So given that sliding scale, which sentiment do you ultimately prefer in the papers: perspective or uniform vilification? I guess then, you need both: either bring perspective to your condemnation or make a definitive judgment based on the facts.

And here I can't write a 5-7 page double-spaced paper.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Kill Bill Vol. 2

I was inspired by Becky to write a film review, as I too partook of the cinema this evening. Clearly, while I was there, I saw Kill Bill Vol. 2, cuz otherwise the title of this post wouldn't make a whole lot of sense. Now I saw the 9 o'clock show and despite being only half a movie, it was still damn long, so this'll be short cuz I want to go to bed.

I highly recommend seeing this movie, and no you don't have to have seen Vol. 1 to appreciate it. The plot twists from the first are pretty well explained or don't really matter, and it's easy to enjoy the movie despite not having seen the first one because all of it takes place in a completely different setting. Plus, since it's a Tarantino film, everything's always out of order anyway (I think his position on that is, deal with it). Of course, I say all this and I did see the first one, so I could be talking out of my ass.

I don't want to give away any of the plot, because I hate people that do that (Vol. 1 was ruined for me because I read about it in a review for Vol. 2), so I just want to say that the juxtaposition of dialogue and tone with the gruesome violence that takes place is actually really enjoyable. And the violence is gruesome. Really gruesome. And sudden and shocking. I didn't get the full effect of Vol. 1 because I watched it on my TV. I got the full effect of Vol. 2, and there are a couple of scenes burned on my brain that make my stomach turn. This movie is not for the faint of heart. But even if you are faint of heart, you should see it anyway. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right?

To sum up: I give it 3 and a half samurai swords (out of 4).

Saturday, May 01, 2004

Being lame

Normally, I would mercilessly ridicule anyone who was in bed at 10 p.m. To commit such an offense on a Saturday night would merit more drastic measures, like, uh... sounding that much more incredulous when I partake in the merciless ridiculing. Yeah.

But tonight is different. First of all, I'm kind of biased because the offending party is me, and I like me. Second of all, I was a grouch (euphemism) all week because I got no sleep last weekend and never found a moment to catch up during the week. Tomorrow will be the first day I've been able to sleep in and enjoy it (I technically slept in on Friday, but it doesn't count when you're up till 3:30 a.m. writing a paper on rewards, incentives and appraisals. That's even more boring than it sounds.) in two weeks. The birthday weekend was worth it, but dammit, I'm still tired.

Interesting things continue to happen in the world, however; the press wouldn't have it any other way. In tech, Google is finally going public, and after being a Yahoo! fan for years, this is something I'm going to pay attention to, particularly since they've started branching out beyond the ridiculously lucrative web search (we're talking profit margins in excess of 40%. Anyone know if Larry Page or Sergey Brin is single?). Google is getting into the online shopping arena by using their search technology to power Froogle (hehe), and even more interestingly, they're beta-testing an email service called Gmail.

This last deserves some attention: when I first heard about Gmail, it was cited as the latest method of infringing on one's right to privacy, because the business model that supports it is the placement of targeted ads on one side of your screen based on keywords in the email you're reading. This actually isn't any different from using the regular search engine, which works in the same way: relevants results on the left, targeted ads on the right (which I've never noticed until now, actually... I wonder if they're paid according to click-throughs or exposures?). I was offended, of course; my email is private! I want to read the Calvin and Hobbes sent to me daily in peace! But then I read that each email account gets an entire gig of memory, free. And that turned my head, especially after caving a few months ago and giving Yahoo! ten bucks for the year so I could have 10 KB of memory on that email account and stop getting those warning messages.

SO, when I saw that, as a member of Blogger.com, I had the chance to try out one of these accounts, I signed right up. Twice, actually; the first time with my usual screenname @gmail.com, and the second with the first initial last name screenname, which is really common and, if this thing takes off, will serve as proof that I got there first. (Look, I already know I'm lame, that's the title of this post and I'm in bed at 10 p.m. on a Saturday night posting on my blog. I can't go much lower.) Anyway, I decided to see how this thing works. Bear in mind, I love my Yahoo! account and have for years, but this is just plain amazing. All your messages are searchable (I wouldn't expect any less from Google) and the idea of a free gig still takes my breath away, but there's more: a message's entire history is available on one page in a new format Google calls a conversation. For example, if you get a funny email and forward it to your friend, next time you click on that email, you can see both what it says and what you wrote to your friend when you forwarded it. And the functionaliy is amazing too; it just works faster than Yahoo! or any other online email service I've ever used. And the issue with the targeted advertising? I closely read the terms of agreement when I signed up to see what it said about that; a computer program scans for keywords and then matches advertising to you, and as a direct marketing student, it's really impressive to see that done well. I also don't mind that it's a computer doing it, because that's not really any different than how anything else works on the internet, and I find it far less invasive than I do pop-ups (which usually aren't even relevant to what I'm looking for). And finally, Google's text-based advertising means the entire site is just cleaner. On Yahoo!, there's usually a big square of graphics on the right-hand side which is occasionally animated as well, which can be really distracting. Until I had email without it, I never appreciated what the web environment could be like without that stuff. It's refreshing. I could probably go on, but that's probably enough for now. Bottom line, I'm a fan of Gmail, and would consider switching to it as my primary personal email provider if it weren't for the fact that everyone already knows my Yahoo! address.

One other tech innovation that made me happy: it only took four months, but after being fed up with all the pop-ups that come with the adware you need to put up with to run Kazaa and iMesh and your computer, I finally switched my internet browser from Explorer to Firefox. And I highly recommend Firefox. The one feature that Explorer has on it is opening a new window that's a copy of the one you already have open, so when I'm doing research, I'll have to go back to it (that feature is necessary for comparison shopping). But overall, Firefox beats the hell out of Explorer, because while blocking all pop-ups is the best feature, there are a couple of other handy innovations as well. (Thanks, Jeremy!)

In the personal growth sector, this weekend was finally the one where I watch all those movies I've been meaning to for so long because whenever I mention I haven't seen them, people gasp and then pretend not to know me anymore. Last night my roommate got all offended that I'd never seen Footloose, and since nothing was on TV, I went and rented it (she also asked me to pick her up some popcorn, so I think there was an ulterior motive). And while I was there, I also picked up Fast Times at Ridgemont High and The Usual Suspects. I still have some catching up to do; other required films include Sixteen Candles (just have never seen it all the way through), Caddyshack, and Better Off Dead. Maybe I'll get some of those tomorrow.

I think that about does it for me tonight.

Whole27: Recap

So we didn't quite make it 30 days. On Thursday, we looked at the prospect of a dry Memorial Day weekend (and the Friday leading up to i...